A Look At 40 Years Of Flybe’s History

After a year of uncertainty, Flybe is preparing to celebrate its 40th birthday. The British outfit was taken over by Connect Airways in February 2019, in a bid to utilize the carrier’s assets. Despite the recent troubles, the firm has created a legacy in British low-cost travel since its inception on November 1, 1979.

G-PRPN Dash 8-Q400 Flybe
Connect Airways’ recent acquisition of Flybe ensures that the airline will be ready to celebrate its 40th birthday. Photo: Marvin Mutz via Flickr

Coastal operation

The airline was launched in the form of Jersey European Airways after the merger between Intra Airways and Express Air Services. The two companies previously operated close to the English Channel. As a result, they decided to combine their network of scheduled passenger and cargo services. After four years of serving regional flights from Jersey, the business was bought by the industrialist, Jack Walker.

The businessman also owned Walkersteel Group, the parent company of charter airline Spacegrand. Both airlines soon combined and chose the city of Exeter, near the English coast, to head its operations.

Flybe went on to grow within the United Kingdom, earning its first route from the Channel Islands to London in 1991. These flights serviced Gatwick Airport from both Guernsey and Jersey with their new Fokker F27 turboprops.

GBevan JEA F-27
Jersey European invested in six additional Fokker F27s in 1990. Photo: G B_NZ via Wikimedia Commons

Continental connections

With operations starting to grow swiftly, Flybe introduced its business class in 1993. This gave Flybe the honor of being the first domestic airline to hold two classes. In the same year, the carrier acquired four British Aerospace 146s to help operates routes to Belfast and Birmingham.

This expansion helped the airline win the “Best UK Regional Airline” award for the second year in a row in 1994. By 1997, Flybe became an international brand with services offered to Paris thanks to a partnership with Air France.

The company had a short-lived name change from June 2000 following its rebrand to British European. However, following global aviation struggles due to the 9/11 attacks, the firm once again had to reposition itself. Therefore, in July 2002, the carrier was born again in its current form of Flybe.

Low-cost operations were re-established, in the hope that this model will help them survive in a highly competitive era. This renewed approach assisted Flybe in its acquisition of BA Connect in 2007. This takeover vastly expanded the airline’s network, enabling it to become Europe’s largest regional airline.

British European CRJ-200
The airline’s identity of British European was short-lived, due to the massive revamp in 2002. Photo: Konstantin von Wedelstaedt via Wikimedia Commons

Corporate shift

At the turn of the decade, the company was floated on the London Stock Exchange. During this time, it also signed a multi-billion dollar deal with Embraer for an order of up to 140 Embraer 175s. However, this landmark year marked the beginning of a dogged period for the airline.

Flybe struggled to offload many of the Embraers that they eventually received, placing a burden on the company. Soon after that, a failed IT systems upgrade cost the newly public firm millions, with added PLC responsibilities.

In 2018, the business lost more money while trying to compete with Scottish airline, Loganair, hoping to gain key routes in the British Isles. Last year, Flybe’s financial struggles had given it a decline in value from its peak valuation. The carrier’s rate was placed at £26/$34 million, down from a previous value of £100 million/$130 million.

Nonetheless, the purchase from the consortium led by Virgin Atlantic and Stobart Air injected new life into the airline. Despite recent route cancellations, the operation will be hoping that a future rebrand will give Flybe a strong start in the next decade.